India Dark, by Kirsty Murray
Themes: childhood, theatre, travel, India, friendship, perspective.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, India Dark follows the dramatic events of the Lilliputian Opera Company in 1910 as they embark on a world tour, acting, singing and dancing their way from Australia to India. The Lilliputian Opera Company is made up of 29 youngsters aged between 7 and 18. Their boss is Arthur Percival, a lecherous, two-faced man who leads his band of youngsters on a traumatic journey that steals their innocence and leaves them irreversibly changed.
My review: Kirsty Murray narrates this gripping tale through two different perspectives. The first voice is 13-year old Poesy Swift. She is the heroine; innocent, gentle and compassionate. The second voice is 15-year old Tilly Sweetrick. Tilly is savvy, worldly-wise and manipulative. I enjoyed the two different perspectives, seeing the world from two very different points of view.
Poesy is the heroine of India Dark. It is she who is the most innocent of all the characters at the beginning of the book; and therefore she who has the furthest to fall into the ugly truth of deception, illicit relationships and vanity. I found myself more gripped by the chapters narrated by Poesy than the chapters narrated by Tilly. No doubt this is because Poesy had the rockier journey to walk.
The events of this story are both gripping and shocking. However, it is the diverse assortment of characters that are most compelling. Complex and volatile interactions erupt in every chapter and each person is continually moulded and impacted by each drama. The troupe of young performers is a bubbling pot of conflict. Love and friendship battle against the swirling mix of jealousy, insecurity, lust and oppression.
As already mentioned, the two characters that narrate the story are starkly contrasting.
Tilly Sweetrick is older than Poesy and has already accompanied one successful tour of the Lilliputian Opera Company. Tilly and her friends are concerned only for male admirers and are desperate to be recognised as young ladies, rather than children. Poesy on the other hand knows nothing of lust. Wide-eyed and innocent, she sees the best in everyone. She is therefore a misfit amongst her peers but finds comfort in two special relationships. The first is with 13-year old Charlie and the second with 17-year old Eliza.
I found myself unable to put down the book, so keen was I to see how these two significant relationships unfurl. Posey’s friendship with Charlie is pure and innocent. They are two kindred spirits; innocent roses amongst the tainted weeds. I loved watching their friendship grow and deepen and the romantic tension that arose between them.
Poesy’s friendship with Eliza was equally compelling. From early in the story, the reader knows that Eliza is hiding a secret from Poesy. Whilst it is obvious to the reader what this secret it, I still felt the shock and hurt that ricocheted through Posey when she stumbled upon the ugly truth.
The volatile dramas of the Lilliputian Opera Company are set against the exotic, Eastern backdrop of Asia and India. The misadventures begin amongst the unfamiliar spice and sounds of Indonesia and Malaysia. However, it is India that hosts the greater share of the plot. The mysterious, other-worldliness of India with its rickshaws, rupees and street performers all add a unique and invaluable dimension to the story.
It could be argued that this story leaves you feeling depressed and despondent. The loss of innocence is irreversible. When the children eventually return to their homes, they have each been changed forever and nothing can restore what they have lost. This is perhaps the stark reality of life – that despite all the good in the world, there is also depravity and corruption.
However, despite the somber theme of innocence lost, I still loved this book from start to finish. Kirsty Murray has been a genius how she has taken the historical facts and then breathed such vivid life into the characters in order to paint a brilliant story.
I would highly recommend India Dark to readers aged 13 and older.